To the advancing allied soldiers, the formidable "Saddam Line" seemed almost a pitiful farce, like finding a lone flimflam man behind the facade of the Wizard of Oz.

The coils of razor wire, oil-filled trenches and high berms, all peppered with deadly mines, were real enough. "There hasn't been a barrier like that since Stalingrad," said one U.S. Marine captain.But, unlike Russian troops holding off Hitler's men in World War II, many of Iraq's first-tier legions turned and fled or simply gave up.

For months, allied troops dreaded Saddam Hussein's much-vaunted chemical weapons. When the assault came, the only reported evidence of their use was a trace of poison gas from an exploded land mine.

"I was very surprised at how little resistance there was," said Maj. Robert Schoenwetter, a U.S. Marine who directed air naval gunfire at any Iraqi armor or artillery that showed itself.

He spoke near a burnt-out truck stop near this desert settlement 40 miles south of Kuwait City.

The road to Kuwait was littered with evidence of the five-week air war: charred hulks of tanks and trucks, deep craters, twisted metal protruding from collapsed bunkers.

The remains of a low-boy tank carrier was jackknifed across the blacktop highway, which had been sliced deeply at intervals to stop an allied advance.

A system of pipes to bring oil to the defensive moats was mangled. Berms were breached and bridged.

Tanks of explosive propane gas lined the road at regular intervals, but no one had stayed behind to detonate them.

"They did not fight much, and none of our friends had casualties," said Col. Palal al-Johany, commander of the Saudi battalion that recaptured the town of Khafji last month.

"The Iraqis have maybe three days' more fight in them," he said. "Their morale is going down. They do not want to have war anymore."

By Tuesday, the allied thrust to seize Kuwait City - Saudi troops with units of Kuwaitis who were tapped to enter the city first - was still about 40 miles south of the capital.

Saudi tanks and heavy guns spread across the desert and fired shells at Iraqi positions in the distance. South of the front line, however, the mood was ebullient.

"We are going slowly, carefully," said Capt. Ali al-Anazi, a Saudi National Guard company commander. "We are beating them with power."

Occasional incoming shells from Iraqi positions were answered with a barrage from Saudi heavy artillery.

Nearby, several U.S. officers, driving the road with other business, wondered aloud why Saudi and Kuwaiti troops were delaying their expected triumphal push toward Kuwait City.

"The Marines have essentially accomplished their mission," said one, asking not to be identified. "I don't know what is keeping the Arabs."

Farther south, the Saudis and Kuwaitis had the air of victors headed to glory. Huge Kuwaiti flags, red, white and black, snapped in the wind above vehicles overflowing with troops flashing the "V" sign.

By the side of the road, in sight of a huge minefield the Iraqis had no time to camouflage, one soldier gingerly reached toward a souvenir, an Iraqi helmet. He looked for booby traps and then snatched it up.

Desert Storm's first lightning bolts left a shambles at the Kuwaiti border post north of Khafji. The remains of a lone telephone booth stood incongruously among shattered buildings behind it, a pile of glass on the seat.

Brand-new road graders were already hard at work pushing aside rubble to restore some semblance of normality. But booming in the distance, followed by concussion overhead, made it clear that there was still a war to fight.

Among reporters following the allied advance was a Kuwaiti television crew. On the camera, a small decal read, "Kuwait - Small But Not Alone."